Biden visits Elk Grove Village today to reinforce vaccine message

President Joe Biden came to Elk Grove Village this afternoon to encourage employers to set COVID-19 vaccination requirements, using the backdrop of a local construction project to help make his point.

Biden was met at O’Hare International Airport by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot along with United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.

A contingent of Democratic congressional representatives showed up early to the event.

Demonstrators stood on Higgins Road near the entrance to the Elk Grove Technology Park, waving flags and holding signs, from “Trump Won” to “Illegal Mandates.”

A presidential visit to nearby Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue in Elk Grove Village was canceled Wednesday night, but the restaurant sent food across the street to the presidential gathering.

Despite Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s support of vaccinations and mass clinics across the state in early 2021 “Illinois is a state where we’re still lower than we should be,” said U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove.

“It’s really sad and depressing. In the 6th District, which I represent, it’s one of the most vaccinated districts and it’s almost double the rate of some districts down south.

Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson said he’s heard some political blowback from Republicans about Biden’s visit. “I don’t care,” he said. “It’s the president of the United States coming to our community.”

United’s Kirby took a pause while Secret Service agents swept his car to talk about the company’s actions. The airline in August required all of its 67,000 U.S. employees to be inoculated against COVID-19 and announced in late September it would begin firing those who did not comply.

“The reaction has been positive and I don’t feel like we’ve been going on a limb at all,” Kirby said. “We were just doing the right thing.” Now the company’s vaccination rate is over 99%, he said.

“The majority of employees were really proud of us for doing this.”

The president is speaking at Elk Grove’s Technology Park at the construction site of a data center being built by Clayco, a Midwestern company that announced it is requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing for employees.

“Importantly, they will implement a system of vaccinations or testing to all of their employees, in line with the president’s requirements,” a White House official said.

It was mostly adults -- Clayco workers and elected officials at the event -- so 12-year-old Vikram Krishnamoorthi stood out.

“I think it’s great. I think I can learn a little bit about what’s happening around me and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Vikram, the son of Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg, who attended with his grandparents.

When asked by his father if he wanted to meet Biden, “I said, ‘yeah, I really want to,’” Vikram said. “I think bringing attention to vaccination will maybe make people want to get vaccinated.

The government is releasing a report today that finds when employers mandate shots for workers, vaccination rates increase by 20 percentage points.

Pritzker has instituted vaccination requirements for certain state workers as well as teachers and health care workers, and Lightfoot is requiring all city employees to get shots.

Biden on Sept. 9 introduced significant mandates for employers with more than 100 workers to require COVID-19 vaccines or weekly tests. He also instituted vaccinations at health care facilities accepting Medicare or Medicaid users, and for federal contractors.

Clayco Executive Chairman Bob Clark is a longtime supporter of Democrats Biden and former President Barack Obama. Clark was a member of Biden’s National Finance Committee during his presidential campaign.